(Notes taken from above sermon preached at Shoreline Church on December 11 2016)
It is interesting that when we first meet shepherds in the Bible they are a respected group. Jacob, who God would rename Israel, was a shepherd. David, the greatest king Israel would ever know, tended the sheep. In the Old Testament God calls a nomadic, small, insignificant people to bless and call his own. A nation of shepherds and farmers. The small nation would flourish. They would thrive. They became rich. In spite of their blessing they ignored and spurned God and because of this they lost it all. They went from power to slavery. In the midst of Israel’s captivities the nomadic people of the country became an enslaved people that knew the city. In particular the rulers of the Jews became quite accustomed to city life. To be a shepherd was now to be an outcast from the city. In the midst of this new city life the Pharisees would expand the law so much that Shepherds were no longer even able to enter the temple of God to make atonement for their sins because of what they did for a living. They were not able to keep the rituals of washing or cleanness established for them by the religious elite thus making it impossible for them to get close to the place where the Spirit of God took up residence in the temple. The irony of this was that they were responsible for raising the sheep that would be used by the people to make sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin but they themselves were not welcome to do the same. They were poor. They were uneducated. They were dirty. They were not trusted by the middle and upper class of society. To be a shepherd would be the modern day equivalent of a homeless person selling newspapers to make a few dollars in order to eat. We would not invite them to our Christmas parties. They would not have made the A list in anything. They were the forgotten people. In this rejection is the mystery of their role in the story of Jesus birth.
The Bible reads...
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
(Luke 2:8-20 ESV)
Who is invited to Jesus?
Have you seen the golden elevators at Trump Plaza? For the last several weeks we have seen this image pretty much everywhere. There is apparently even a live camera so that any moment of the day you can watch those doors to see who may have been invited up to the top floor to meet with the Donald. There have been world leaders, financial leaders, political leaders, all kinds of leaders that have made the climb to the top of Trump Tower. Important people get invited up the gold elevators to meet the president elect. The elites of our world have access to the next President of the United States. This is the way the world functions. Important people hang out with other important people and make important decisions. Rich people hang out with other rich people and the circle goes and on and on. We are aligned with those that we are the most like whether its status, or race, or power. Since we understand that this is the case we begin to make decisions in our life that will alter and mold and shift who we are in order to give us access to the perceived next level up on the rung. Celebrities even do this. The famous among our culture are not all created equal. Are you an A list, B list, or heaven forbid you are a C list celebrity and are relegated to Dancing With the Stars? This knowledge of how the world works starts early. Middle School can be brutal on this front. We find kids learning to alter who they are and what they are willing to do in order to gain the approval of people that they don’t really even like but that can give them status and attention that they think they really want. We want to be the ones who have the power to exclude not the ones who are being excluded. Exclusion of those who are less than is the currency of being elite. It is the balm that we think will heal the parts in our hearts that we know all too well feel empty. This is who we are. We all want in some way to be the ones who can ride whatever golden elevators we are seeking.
Because this is the scale that our broken hearts have created we place the same ideas upon our relationship with God. Our hearts tell us over and over again that the kind of person God would use must be something very different than what we know ourselves to be. The only kind of people who will get invited up the gold elevators of heaven must be the rich, the smart, the powerful. We feel hopeless and helpless at times because we know ourselves well enough to know that there is no possible way that we could be on the short list of those God wants to enable for his kingdom. Sin is the language of defeat in the human heart, it is the voice that tells us that God does not love us anymore and our answer to this is to strive and work to become someone that God would love. When that effort falls short we give up altogether on believing that God could love us so we just try to become the kind of person that someone would love. We sleep with the boy, we take the pills, we drink a little more and laugh a little louder. We make more money and wield more power, we build all these towers and castles to the sky to make the brokenness we hold inside fade to the background…
And then we see the shepherds.
In God’s story, and that includes God’s story in your life and mine, no part of the narrative is wasted. There is no stroke of the pen or punctuation that is a mistake. The shepherds did not kneel at the manger because God couldn’t find anyone else in a pinch. The men divinely appointed to kneel at the infant newborn feet of the King were handpicked from the beginning of time to be humanity’s representative at the manger. The shepherds themselves are a picture of the kind of people the kingdom of God will be for. God does not invite the Kings of the world to adore his son, he invites the homeless poor. We should not be surprised at this reality but we always are. We are convinced that God love for us is magnified in our accomplishments and yet the very voice of Jesus three decades after his birth will tell a different story. It’s almost like he is tipping his hat to the very shepherds that attended his birth when he says in Luke 6..
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
(Luke 6:20-23 ESV)
We said earlier that exclusion is the currency of the elite. The kingdom of heaven deals in different currency. Where the elite’s seek to exclude the kingdom of heaven always invites.
Who will be bedrock of Jesus ministry...tax collectors and sinners. Who will anoint his feet with oil and wash them with her tears as a precursor of his death and sacrifice for sin...a prostitute. Who will write the majority of the New Testament...a murderer. The Bible starts and ends with the weak proclaiming and revealing the strength of God. Moses the murdering stammering failure will lead the nation. Rahab the prostitute will be in the lineage of Jesus as God uses her to deliver Jericho. David is the youngest of Jesse’s sons, not even called to meet the prophet Samuel when he is looking for Israel’s next king (on a side note he was out tending the sheep) and he would become the greatest king Israel would ever know. Do you see it. God does not pick winners and losers the way we do. If you plan on seeing Jesus and kneeling at his feet it will not be based on what you have built or what you have done, as a matter of fact you will be required to leave all of that behind to join the throng of those who will bow at the feet of Jesus. Only sinners and paupers will find themselves invited to wedding feast of the Lamb. The only accolades that will be sung in heaven will be those of Jesus Christ. The shepherds were the perfect candidates to come to the manger because they could just sit and marvel at what God had done. Their humility of their situation could translate into wonder.
The good news of the question “Who is invited to Jesus”, is that everyone is invited. However not everyone will accept the invitation on the inviters terms. Can you hear the voice of the Rich young ruler as he boldly declares his desire for eternal life and the Kingdom of God to Jesus. Do you remember what Jesus says to him? He first reveals his pride when he says, “follow the commandments,” and the young man replies in pride, “I have.” Jesus then speaks to his position, “sell all that you have, come follow me.” In other words find your everything in me, leave what you have built and find what I will build within you. The young man leaves sad because he didn’t want that kind of invitation. Jesus will say it’s hard for important rich people to have the kingdom because of this. They want the kingdom on their terms. The shepherds had no kingdom, money, or prestige to check at the door. An invitation to the stable was the best offer they had had in years, and so they came.
How must we come to Jesus?
The lowly shepherds answer this question for us beautifully. Their coming to the manger is a template for all who would come after them. They come exactly as they are. They do not throw on a fresh set of clothes. They don’t wipe the smells and grime of the sheep off of themselves. Luke says they went with haste. They ran to the manger. They ran to the manger as poor men, as outcasts, as unclean, they ran to the manger as shepherds.
Do you realize that in this country we spend over 62 billion dollars a year on cosmetics? We are obsessed with how we look, how people perceive us. Elective plastic surgery in our country takes in over 12 billion dollars a year. We are working so hard to present a version of us to the world that is beautiful, that is perfect. Some of us find our worth in it. We spend countless amounts of time getting that perfect Instagram post, or that perfect selfie. We long to be seen as who we know we are not. We are so fearful that if people really knew us they would not love us and yet the opposite is true with Jesus. He is not looking to meet your Instagram self, he spent his blood on the cross to meet face to face with the actual you with all your warts and imperfections.
You cannot come to Jesus as you wish that you are or that you have fooled the people around you into thinking that you are. Your persona and prestige cannot make its way to the manger. The only way you can come to Jesus is as you really are. Stripped completely bare. No masks, no makeup, no titles, no prestige, just you and your brokenness standing in rags before the king of the Universe. You must run to Jesus like the Shepherds.
For some this should be amazing news. You are the one who has lost the ability to fake out the people around you. People know about you. They know you are the addict. They know you are the unfaithful wife or husband. They know you are the prostitute. They know you are the sinner. And you have been convinced by your sin, by your broken heart, or even by all the whitewashed Christianity around you that the only people Jesus wants are the good smelling buttoned up kind. How amazing is it to realize that the opposite is true. The buttoned up whitewashed among us cannot have any part of Christ, but the broken sinners can. You can kneel along with the Shepherds at the feet of Jesus. Don’t stop for a fresh set of clothes or to clean some of that dirt off. Run to Jesus with the shepherds.
The kings and queens of heaven are all around us but they are not who we think that they are. Many will be surprised to see who finds their way into heaven to rule with Jesus for eternity. The kings and queens of heaven are the poor in the slums of Haiti. They are the forgotten in the poorest places in America. They are the orphan. They are the weak. Those who will rule in eternity will not beat their chest and work with all their being to rule in this place. The kings and queens of heaven will not seek to ride a golden elevator, rather they will find their everything in the resurrection and power of Jesus.
What is our response to Jesus?
The shepherds went home glorifying and praising God for what he had done. That is our response to Jesus. There will always be two options for us. We can look at what we have built and what we have done and spend our minutes, hours, and days trying to proclaim those things to the world or we can look at what Jesus has built and what he has done and spend our minutes, hours, and days proclaiming those things to the world. The kingdom of heaven will welcome that proclamation, the other will end abruptly and eternally when we breathe our last.
The kingdom of heaven is inviting all to the feet of Jesus. The shepherds could run because they had no kingdom of value to leave behind. May God give us the grace to do the same.